Bihar Opinion Poll: As Gap Closes, ‘Confused NDA Voters’ to Be Key

CSDS’ survey says that 37% BJP voters don’t want Nitish Kumar back as CM. This vote could decide the final outcome. 

7 min read
The Lokniti-CSDS Bihar Opinion Poll, released on Tuesday, 20 October, ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections, has indicated that Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s popularity has taken a hit, reported India Today.

India Today along with Lokniti-Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) released the findings of their opinion poll in Bihar on the evening of Tuesday, 20 October.

The survey revealed that the National Democratic Alliance led by incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar has a slight edge despite his shrinking popularity.

This article will try to go beyond the survey findings and try to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the main, big-picture takeaway from the opinion poll?
  2. What are the factors that will decide the final outcome?
  3. Which way is Bihar headed?

First, the Findings of the Survey

Projected Vote Share

Bihar Opinion Poll: As Gap Closes, ‘Confused NDA Voters’ to Be Key
(Graphic: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

Projected Seat Share

Bihar Opinion Poll: As Gap Closes, ‘Confused NDA Voters’ to Be Key
(Graphic: Arnica Kala/The Quint)
“31% respondents picked Nitish Kumar as their choice of CM while 27% picked Tejashwi Yadav.”
Lokniti-CSDS Opinion Poll

Main issue while voting

Bihar Opinion Poll: As Gap Closes, ‘Confused NDA Voters’ to Be Key
(Graphic: Arnica Kala/The Quint)
  • Regarding CM choice, Nitish Kumar has just a four percentage-point lead over Tejashwi Yadav: 31 percent voters picked Nitish Kumar while 27 picked Tejashwi Yadav as the CM of their preference.
  • 24 percent voters said they are undecided. 10 percent didn't reveal their vote, 14 percent said they could change their mind.
  • 43 percent of respondents said they're against another term for Nitish Kumar, 38 percent are in favour and 19 percent didn't respond.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains popular. Around 61 percent of respondents said that they are satisfied with his performance, while 35 percent said they are dissatisfied. This was 72 percent and 23 percent in 2015 so the Net Satisfaction has come down from 49 percentage points to 26 percentage points.

Big Picture Takeaway from the Survey

The gap has narrowed considerably.

  • CVoter's survey from the last week of September had given the NDA a 12 percentage point lead in terms of vote share and a projected seat share of 141-161 compared to UPA's 64-84. Similarly, Tejashwi Yadav was 15 percentage points behind Nitish Kumar.
  • While the two surveys cannot be compared beyond a point, it is safe to assume that the Tejashwi Yadav-led Mahagathbandhan has narrowed the gap considerably.
Bihar Opinion Poll: As Gap Closes, ‘Confused NDA Voters’ to Be Key

The 4 percent points gap between Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav is important.

Gap between Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav is less than the gap between the incumbent and challenger before the elections in Maharashtra, Haryana & Jharkhand last year.

Just for the sake of comparison, here's the gap between CM candidates in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand before their respective elections last year (source CVoter).

  • Haryana: ML Khattar's lead over BS Hooda was 21 percentage points
  • Maharashtra: Devendra Fadnavis had a 27 percentage-point lead over his nearest rival Ajit Pawar.
  • Jharkhand: Raghubar Das had a 5 percentage-point lead over Hemant Soren during the last opinion poll.

Now, Khattar failed to win a majority despite a 21-point lead, Fadnavis had a below par performance, and in Jharkhand Raghubar Das was voted out and the BJP lost badly.

Usually, the incumbent always does better in most pre-poll surveys in the CM face question. Nitish's lead is smaller than even that of Raghubar Das. In a simple election, a mere four-point gap would probably have meant a clear defeat for the incumbent.

But the Bihar election is complicated, due to several factors.

Factors to Watch Out For

The following factors could shape the final outcome and this is the space that we need to watch.

Confused NDA Voters

The key of this election lies with 'confused NDA voters'. Basically these are voters who broadly support the NDA, especially the BJP, but aren't very keen on Nitish Kumar returning as CM.

These four data points from the survey reveal this very clearly:

  • 58 percent of BJP voters feel that Nitish Kumar has done good work and deserves another chance. This is much less than the 80 percent JD(U) voters who felt this way.
  • 30 percent BJP voters feel that Nitish Kumar may have done good work but another leaders should get a chance, 12 percent JD(U) voters feel this way.
“About 37 percent of BJP voters feel that Nitish Kumar shouldn’t be the CM.”
  • Seven percent of BJP voters and four percent JD(U) voters said that Nitish Kumar hasn't worked so there's no question of giving him another chance. All in all, around 37 percent BJP voters don’t want Nitish Kumar back.
  • 23 percent of traditional BJP voters said they would be voting for 'others' and 6 percent said they will vote for the Mahagathbandhan. Among JD(U) voters the figure is 20 percent and 10 percent respectively. This means that the NDA is failing to hold close to 30 percent of its core vote.

Chirag Paswan and the LJP Factor

  • It appears that a significant chunk of these 'confused NDA' votes are tilting towards Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party.
  • 12 percent of Upper Castes, BJP's traditional vote bank, said that they plan to vote for the LJP in this election.
  • Now, this 12 percent is across the state. It is likely that much of this vote is in seats that the JD(U), HAM and VIP are fighting. So it is likely that in those seats the Upper Caste consolidation with LJP candidates, especially those with a BJP/RSS background, could be higher.
  • In non-BJP seats, 45 percent of Paswan’s Dusadh community said that they plan to vote for the LJP 35 percent said they’ll vote for the Mahagathbandhan and 15 percent picked the NDA. In BJP seats, 47 percent said NDA, 18 percent said Mahagathbandhan and 27 percent said LJP.
  • Since LJP is contesting only a handful of BJP seats, this vote could shift more towards the NDA in those seats. However, it is clear that the LJP is harming non-BJP NDA candidates by putting up candidates in those seats.

Is There Confusion in Mahagathbandhan as Well?

On one hand, it seems that the RJD is running an extremely tight ship.

  • 83 percent traditional RJD voters said they're voting for the Mahagathbandhan, a higher retention rate than BJP, JD(U) or Congress.
  • Net dissatisfaction at the MLA level is the lowest among RJD MLAs. 32 percent respondents said they were satisfied to a great extent with the RJD MLA while 34 percent said they were dissatisfied to a great extent, a gap of 2 percentage points. The overall gap is 12 points. For BJP and Congress MLAs, it is 16 percentage points, and among JD(U) MLAs 17 percentage points.
  • This indicates that the dissatisfaction with RJD MLAs is lower than other parties and this may help a higher number of RJD MLAs retain their seats.

However, the survey claims that the Congress is a weak link in the Mahagathbandhan.

  • 46 percent of Congress voters said they are voting for 'Others' while 7 percent said they are voting for the NDA. 47 percent said that they are voting for the Mahagathbandhan.
  • The retention rate is lower than even among BJP voters, despite many of them being angry with Nitish Kumar.
  • Since, the larger chunk said they are voting for 'Others' and not NDA, perhaps this could mean that a chunk of Upper Caste and Dalit Congress voters maybe drifting to the LJP and a section of Muslim voters to the AIMIM, which is part of the GDSF alliance.

Undecided Voters

  • According to the CSDS survey, 10 percent voters did not reveal their preference and said that they are undecided while 14 percent revealed their vote and said that they could shift.
  • Since the vote share gap between the two major fronts is just six percentage points, the undecided voters have the potential of either helping the Mahagathbandhan turn the tables or increase the NDA's lead.

COVID-19 Factor

  • COVID-19 is also an important factor that isn't captured in the surveys. It is possible that one section of voters chooses not to turn up at polling booths out of fear of contracting the virus.
  • Since, the commitment levels appear to be highest among RJD voters and BJP voters (only in seats BJP is contesting), the possible fall in turnout may affect these seats less than others.
  • Common sense would suggest that the highest likelihood of voters not turning up may be among urban, richer BJP voters in seats being fought by JD(U) or other allies.

What Lies Ahead?

A few things could happen in the coming weeks.

  • Obviously, the undecided voters will finally pick a side closer to polling day and that may prove decisive.
  • Since there is a high degree of support for PM Modi, it is possible that the NDA may get a slight surge after he hits the campaign trail. Since Nitish Kumar is likely to appear with Modi, it may help him win back some of the BJP voters who are undecided or tilting towards LJP.
24 percent voters are ‘undecided’. Since the gap between the NDA and MGB is just 6 percent. This vote could tilt the scales. 
  • To some extent this could happen in the Mahagathbandhan as well. They would hope that Congress voters who may be drifting away would eventually return after Rahul Gandhi starts campaigning.
  • Usually, there is also a shift from smaller parties to larger ones closer to polling day. However, it is also true that surveys often underestimate 'others' so this factor may just cancel out.
  • All in all, this election is likely to strengthen a broader trend in Bihar politics. In the near future, it the political tussle in the stay may revolve around two big players – the BJP and RJD.

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